Fall 2017 Upper Level Courses

PHL 273: Formal Logic

MWF 10:05 am – 11:20 am – Michael Hicks
It is tempting to characterize a really good argument this way: if you accept its premises you must accept its conclusion. This course begins by analyzing this “must"—in what sense can one be logically compelled? What is it for an argument to be valid? A simple trick called “formalization” allows us to focus on certain structural features that are often relevant to the validity of an argument. In this course, we consider two formalizations, sentential logic and a first-order quantification-theory that builds on it, and figure out how to use them to show the validity of arguments. The primary task will be to master these mathematical representations of argument. As such this class is very different from other philosophy classes: homework will often be pseudo-mathematical, and there is very little writing.

PHL 301: Ancient Philosophy

TR 10:05 am – 11:55 am – Pascal Massie
To be concerned with ancient Greek philosophy is to be concerned with philosophy’s beginning. It is commonly acknowledged that philosophy, as it developed in the Western tradition, originated in Greece, about 2,400 years ago. Our task, however, is to move beyond this commonplace in order to think about the problem raised by the ascription of such a beginning. The Greeks themselves understood the beginning as archē. In this sense, a beginning is not a starting point left behind in subsequent developments, nor does it refer to some archaic, primitive or outdated stage of thought; rather, archē constitutes the living source, the basis, and the guiding principle that endures throughout what has grown out of it. Thus, to study ancient philosophy is to be concerned with what initially and still today motivates philosophy.

The leading question throughout this course will be: ‘what is philosophy?’ In order to articulate it, we will begin with the Pre-Socratic conception of the cosmos and being raised by Parmenides and Heraclitus in particular; then, we will focus on the works of Plato and Aristotle (the main part of the semester) and conclude with a representative text from the Hellenistic period (Epicureanism, Stoicism or Skepticism).

PHL 335: Philosophy of Law

MWF 11:40 pm – 12:55 pm – Christopher King
It is often said that constitutional democratic societies are unique insofar as they rule themselves by law. Yet, such societies manifest deep conflicts about which laws are correct, what their guiding constitutional laws mean, and whether or not they have a duty to obey them. In short, citizens do not agree about what the laws should be or what gives them authority and legitimacy. Philosophers and theorists have tried to make these disputes tractable by addressing very basic questions like “What is a law?” or “What is the basis for a so called ‘legal system?” This course in the philosophy of law aims to shed light on the more evident conflicts by shedding light on the nature and content of law, the relationship(s) between law and morality, problems of constitutional interpretation, the nature of rights, and the source(s) of legal authority. We will examine the main theoretical proposals on these topics and we will examine and practice instances of legal reasoning in applying them.

PHL 360A: Confronting Death

TR 2:50 pm – 4:40 pm – Staff
No one denies that we all die, but what that means for how we should live is an open question. This course explores human finitude as it relates to living well. Topics range from suicide and grief to the immortality of the soul. These are explored through careful study of philosophical, religious, literary, and historical sources. Weekly discussions in small groups create a vibrant community of inquiry, while student-driven projects enable creative engagement with ideas. Join us for a serious look at human limits and how we can flourish in spite of them.

PHL 373: Symbolic Logic

MWF 1:15 pm – 2:30 pm – Michael Hicks
This course is an examination of the acceptability and usefulness of various logical systems, with attention to the question what it could mean to criticize or think about logic itself.  We'll focus especially on first order predicate logic, and conclude with an outline of Godel's first incompleteness theorem. (Though this course does not have official prerequisites, students who have not taken PHL 273 are advised to consult with Prof. Hicks before registering.)

PHL 376: Environmental Philosophy

MWF 2:50 pm – 4:05 pm – Suzanne McCullagh
In this course we will explore how anthropocentric thinking can lead to a devaluation of nature and grapple with some of the difficulties in thinking non-anthropocentrically by examining critiques of eco-centrism, deep ecology, and animal rights. In the first part of the course we will survey a range of core texts in environmental philosophy including works by: Aldo Leopold, Arne Naess, Henry David Thoreau, Baird Callicott, Holmes Rolston III, Val Plumwood, Peter Singer, and Tom Regan. We will consider different ways of conceiving of and valuing the human relationship with non-human nature, along with the possibilities and limitations for rethinking our relations with the non-human world. In the second half of the course we turn our attention to urban environments. While a prominent idea of nature encountered in environmental philosophy frequently conjures up images of wild, untamed, non-human environments free from human modification, recent scholarly work has turned to urban environments as an overlooked area of inquiry and reflection. We will explore and critically reflect upon the philosophical significance of urban ecologies and human relations with urban non-human life in order consider the problems that the concept of nature, as that which is non-human, poses for human environmental thought and action.

PHL 394: Existentialism

TR 1:15 pm – 2:35 pm – Elaine Miller

“The present author is by no means a philosopher. He has not understood the system, whether there is one, whether it is completed; it is already enough for his weak head to ponder what a prodigious head everyone must have these days when everyone has such a prodigious idea. He easily envisions his fate in an age that has crossed out passion in order to serve science, in an age when an author who desires readers must be careful to write in such a way that his book can be conveniently skimmed during the after-dinner nap.”
-Kierkegaard, Preface to Fear and Trembling

In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the concept of human existence became an explicit theme of philosophical reflection in an unprecedented way. In part a legacy of the Romantic reaction against the primacy of reason and rationalism in Enlightenment ideals, existentialism also owed its success to specific developments in the economic, political, and religious life of the nineteenth century, specifically, to the rise of capitalism and globalism, the success of “democratic” revolutions, and the demise of organized religion as a political force. Existentialism emphasizes the radical freedom of individuals, the concomitant necessity to take responsibility for their own existence, and the attendant "moods" of guilt, anxiety, and despair. In this course we will take a three-pronged approach. In the first part of the semester, we will read texts by 19th century thinkers Kierkegaard and Nietzsche, upon whose work existentialism as a philosophical school was based. In the second part of the semester we will read Heidegger, Sartre, Beauvoir, and Camus, who either thought of themselves explicitly as existentialists, or whose texts have been closely associated with existentialism. Finally, at the end of the semester we will consider contemporary legacies of existentialism.

PHL 420W/520W: Wittgenstein

W 2:50 pm - 6:30 pm – Gaile Pohlhaus
Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889-1951) is perhaps one of the most influential and enigmatic philosophers of the early twentieth century. Claimed by philosophers working in all three major philosophical traditions of the West and said to have affinities with the practices of both Buddhism and psychoanalysis, Wittgenstein is a hard figure to pin down. Indeed, his later work, which will be the primary focus of this seminar, does not really say anything, but rather demonstrates a kind of method or series of methods. Moving through areas such as philosophy of mind and language, metaphysics and epistemology, Wittgenstein sought in his later work (and arguably in his earlier work as well) to release us (and himself) from quandaries that plague the philosophical imagination, but how exactly he does that and what the implications are of such a project are disputed among readers of his work.

We will focus our efforts in this seminar on close reading of Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Investigations. Written as a series of numbered paragraphs that treat a range of ideas and thought experiments, the Investigations poses great difficulties for the reader, and for the reader of philosophy in particular. For example, it is not clear at all how we are to understand these paragraphs (both individually and in relation to one another) and at times the text appears to wrestle with itself, calling itself into question and refiguring its own language in a variety of ways. The language of the book is deceptively simple, but the conceptual work in which it invites readers to engage is quite complex and demanding. Seminar participants will be expected to work through the text line by line, semicolon by semicolon, the goal of which will not be to understand a particular theory or set of philosophical claims, but rather an ability to engage in a way of thinking, or method of philosophizing appropriate to our Lebensform (form of life).

PHL 440E/540E: Early Modern Cosmopolitanism

M 2:50 pm – 6:30 pm – Keith Fennen
This course is a historical and conceptual study of the idea of cosmopolitanism within the context of sixteenth and seventeenth century European authors. We will examine the themes of a universal community, laws that transcend any particular group or nation, the rights of strangers within divergent societies, the obligations that one has to actively promote and secure the well-being of other individuals, as well as the degree to which individuality and particularity is cultivated or suppressed. After briefly addressing some background material we will read selections from some or all of the following: Francisco de Vitoria, Francisco Suárez, Hugo Grotius, Michel de Montaigne, Francis Bacon, and René Descartes.

PHL 459/559: Political Philosophy Seminar: The Democratic Paradox

R 2:50 pm – 6:30 pm – Emily Zakin
This course will examine the paradoxes and aporias that inhere in democratic principles and forms of governance. Who are ‘the people’? How does a people become a people, a ‘we,’ and what legitimates its existence as such? What is the relation between people, nation, and state? We will begin with Carl Schmitt’s 1923 text The Crisis of Parliamentary Democracy and examine the challenge Schmitt’s work poses for thinking the tensions between liberalism and democracy. From there we will follow various off-shoots in different directions. One direction will concern the status of human rights (as distinct from civil rights) and their reliance on the nation-state (looking specifically at Hannah Arendt’s 1951 Origins of Totalitarianism). This will lead into questions about cosmopolitanism, hospitality, and the citizen/foreigner relation (with a specific focus on Derrida’s writings on these questions). Another set of questions will address the concept of the political (and relatedly, of the demos) and the friend/enemy distinction – does the political intrinsically resist universalism (or, put another way, is the ‘we’ of a people necessarily exclusive of others who are not ‘we’), and how does the logic of inclusion and exclusion interact with the criss-crossing values of pluralism and universalism? Readings here will include Schmitt’s Concept of the Political and Theory of the Partisan, which we’ll read together with Derrida’s Politics of Friendship. Yet another direction will focus on questions related to democracy’s conception of itself and the way its own values might be fatal to it (looking here at work by Derrida and Foucault). Our overall goal will be to identify and elaborate some fundamental concepts (the people, sovereignty, freedom, equality, truth) and to consider whether and how they illuminate the crises facing the Modern nation-state.

PHL 620G: Mind, Action, and Normativity

T 2:50 pm - 6:30 pm – Facundo Alonso
In this seminar we will discuss issues at the intersection of philosophy of action, philosophy of mind, and metaethics. Topics include the nature of intention and belief, norms of rationality for such attitudes, reasons for action and reasons for belief, practical reasoning and theoretical reasoning, and many others.